Daniel Staackmann and Nicole Sopko, founders of Upton's Naturals

Daniel Staackmann and Nicole Sopko, © Upton's Naturals


Upton’s Naturals: “Building a Brand That is On Pace With Transformation Means We Are Still Here and Still Viable”

Upton’s Naturals is an independently owned company and a trailblazer in the plant-based food industry, established in Chicago back in 2006. Initially launching onto the market with an Italian-flavored seitan, the company has since expanded its offering to include a range of flavors and products, such as the Updog, a plant-based hot dog alternative, and various jackfruit innovations. Founders Daniel Staackmann and Nicole Sopko, also known for her work with the PBFA, focus on simplicity, vegan values, and the use of real, recognizable ingredients. Due to this, and despite the fluctuating dynamics of the plant-based market, the company has continued to thrive, recently reporting a consistent upward trajectory in sales, growing 600% from 2013 to 2022. Uptons states that its slow and steady approach has …


Clever Carnivore has raised $7 million in seed round funding to expand and scale its operations.

© Clever Carnivore

Investments & Acquisitions

Clever Carnivore Secures $7M to Expand its “Astoundingly” Low-Cost Cultivated Pork Production

Chicago’s first cultivated meat company, Clever Carnivore, has raised $7 million in seed round funding to expand and scale its operations. The company has developed a platform to cultivate pork at low costs. Led by former Tyson Foods executive Russell Thomas, VP of product development, Clever Carnivore has created a prototype, the Clever Bratwurst, that it plans to unveil in early 2024. The biotech’s expansion plans include relocating its inaugural lab operations in Lincoln Park to a larger nearby facility with a 500 L bioreactor capacity and space for a test kitchen. “We’ve been tracking and investing across the global cultivated meat sector since the first such company launched eight years ago, and we haven’t seen anyone come remotely close to Clever Carnivore’s astoundingly low current …


The Bettering Company cannabis edibles

© The Bettering Company

Investments & Finance

The Bettering Company Secures $6.7 Million in for Luxury Vegan Cannabis Edibles

The Bettering Company, a Chicago-based luxury cannabis edibles brand, has announced the successful completion of a $6.7 million funding round, propelling its total funding to $11 million. Founded by Mark Cozzi and Drake Nickell, the company is set to launch its THC-infused gummies in the fall of 2023, with initial plans to hit dispensaries across Illinois.  The funding, which encompasses investments from experienced venture capitalists, cannabis industry specialists, and consumer packaged goods investors, will be allocated toward two primary objectives. Firstly, the completion of The Bettering Company’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen facility in Rockford, Illinois, is a priority. Secondly, the company intends to bolster its management team by recruiting top-tier talent in sales, marketing, and food production. The cannabis market In 2022, Americans spent an estimated …


© UPSIDE Foods

Company News

UPSIDE Foods Announces its First Commerical Cultivated Meat Plant in Illinois

UPSIDE Foods, has officially chosen Glenview, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, as the location for its first large-scale commercial production facility.  This 187,000-square-foot plant, named “Rubicon,” will serve as a hub for the production of cultivated chicken products, marking UPSIDE’s first commercial-scale production. Moreover, the company has ambitious plans to diversify its product offerings by expanding into other meat varieties and whole-textured formats in the future. The company states it selected the name Rubicon with an appreciation for its historical significance as a point of no return, reflecting its commitment to redefine the future of food. Several factors drove the decision to establish its facility in this area. Firstly, Glenview’s strategic location offers significant logistical advantages, with major transportation crossroads facilitating efficient production, distribution, and …


Better balance x kale my name

Image supplied by Kale My Name

Gastronomy & Food Service

Better Balance Continues Foodservice Expansion with Award-Winning Restaurant Collab

Since its US launch last year, plant-based food brand Better Balance has secured many global strategic partnerships, helping to build brand awareness and transform restaurant menus. The newest collaboration with award-winning Chicago restaurant Kale My Name marks yet another milestone in the brand’s mission to bring flavorful plant-based alternatives to consumers worldwide.  From the beginning, Better Balance recognized that partnerships were key to shaping its brand. Last year, it teamed up with Mexican chain Gorditas Doña Tota and 7-Eleven, and even helped Civitas Metropolitano become the first plant-based stadium in mainland Europe.  Most recently, Better Balance announced a new partnership with Kale My Name, becoming the first restaurant in the United States to offer its Better Hot Dog. The pea protein-based hot dog is gluten-free, …


Natures Fynd cheese spread on bagel

© Nature's Fynd

Company News

Nature’s Fynd Receives Health Canada’s Approval to Market Alt Products Powered by the “Fungus from Yellowstone Park”

Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd has received authorization from Health Canada, the federal department responsible for national health standards and policy, to commercialize its alt meat and dairy products made with a novel fungi protein called Fy. Nature’s Fynd grows its fungi protein using proprietary fermentation and a fungus called Fusarium strain flavolapis, discovered in Yellowstone Park’s geothermal springs. The novel protein is used as a whole ingredient to make animal-free foods. According to Health Canada, the product approval came after a comprehensive assessment of Fy Protein’s safety for human consumption. In the USA, Nature’s Fynd received FDA greenlight for its fungi ingredient in March 2021.  Similarly, the Canadian food company Smallfood also discovered a wild microalgae strain capable of producing premium proteins through biomass fermentation. The company is …


PlantX Market Storefront

©PlantX Market

Gastronomy & Food Service

PlantX to Open XMarket Food Hall as Chicago’s “Largest Vegan Food Hall” This Summer

Plant-based digital platform PlantX (CSE:VEGA) announces it has partnered with restaurant developer Macromia Group to launch Chicago’s largest vegan food hall. The XMarket Vegan Food Hall will feature a multi-concept, 6,500 sq. ft space and is scheduled to open in early September.  Located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, XMarket Vegan Food Hall will offer six unique dining concepts, including a coffee bar serving PlantX’s Portfolio Coffee and a bodega-style grocery store with a Good Planet cheesemonger. The hall will also feature a central bar with plant-based bar food and wine pairings provided by VeganWines.com. “Chicago has emerged as one of the largest vegan and health-conscious communities in North America, making it an ideal location to introduce our all-in-one vegan food hall concept,” said PlantX CEO, Lorne Rapkin. …


Michelin starred Chef Manrique joins Aqua Cultured Foods to launch exceptional alt seafood

© Image provided


Michelin Starred Chef Manrique Joins Aqua Cultured Foods to Launch “Exceptional” Alt Seafood Whole Cuts

Aqua Cultured Foods, a pioneer of alt–seafood whole cuts set to launch commercially for the first time in January 2024, has announced the appointment of renowned chef Laurent Manrique as its inaugural culinary advisor. The Chicago-based food tech develops a new type of animal-free seafood using a technology that leverages a fungi strain and fermentation to transform unprocessed organic matter into realistic alternatives of tuna, whitefish, calamari, shrimp, and scallops.  In his new role, Chef Manrique will ensure that Aqua’s developments have the best possible flavor, texture, color, and overall appeal to be a one-to-one seafood replacement and win over consumers.  Chef Manrique is a French restaurateur and owner of Café de la Presse, a popular French restaurant in San Francisco. He earned two Michelin stars for three consecutive years (2006-2008), …


Plant-based steak

©Land Lovers

Meat- and Fish Alternatives

Meet Land Lovers: A Startup Looking to Disrupt the US Meat Market With the “Most Realistic Plant-Based Steak”

With plant-based burgers largely conquered, the alt-meat industry is increasingly turning its focus to the more difficult but highly lucrative realm of whole muscle cuts, which make up the majority of meat sales in the US and beyond.  One of the newest and most exciting entries to this category is Land Lovers, a Chicago-based startup determined to revolutionize the US meat market with “extraordinary” whole cuts of plant-based steak.  Formerly known as ALCHEMEAT, Land Lovers is led by chef and food industry veteran Dr. Huan Xia. Using patented technology, the company produces whole cuts of plant-based meat that look and taste exactly like premium beef. Its versatile product, made from wheat and soy protein, is said to offer a realistic alternative to beef in virtually …


Joe Buonavolanto

Joe Buonavolanto III/ Image supplied by Buona


Buona and Upton’s Naturals: “The Beefless Sandwich Has Created Its Own Category for Us, Resonating with Both Vegans and Non-Vegans Alike”

As far as institutions go, few are as revered and beloved as Chicago’s Buona Italian Beef. Since its founding in 1981, the family-owned and operated restaurant chain has established itself as a top destination for indulging in one of the city’s most popular street foods, Italian beef sandwiches. Having become famous for serving extremely meaty sandwiches, Buona shocked fans everywhere when it released a fully vegan version of its iconic Original Italian Beef, made with Upton’s Naturals seitan, in the spring of 2021. It wasn’t prepared for the response – in less than 24 hours, the Plant-Based Italian Beefless Sandwich sold out 1,800 pounds of seitan at multiple locations due to “overwhelming” customer demand, with fans enthusing the plant-based beef was indistinguishable from the original. …


Russell Thomas, Clever Carnivore

© Clever Carnivore

Company News

Cultivated Meat Startup Clever Carnivore Hires Tyson Foods’ Russell Thomas

Clever Carnivore announces the hiring of Russell Thomas as VP of product development, to accelerate the development of its debut consumer product, the Clever Bratwurst. Clever Carnivore states that the hire propels the company into the prototype development stage, meaning its cost-competitive sausages, burgers, and chicken nuggets, will “will soon be a reality”. Upon its $2.1M raise last year, CEO Virginia Rangos said, “We’re hoping to eventually get — and we think this is quite practical — to a $1 burger, essentially,” adding, “We think we will have product prototype ready by the end of 2023.” The startup, Chicago’s first cultivated meat company, harnesses cell biology, recombinant protein technology, and advanced bioreactor design, with the objective of creating consumer products that compete on taste, price, …


Nature's Fynd expands into retail across the US

Image credit: Nature's Fynd IG

Retail & E-Commerce

Nature’s Fynd Expands Retail Distribution, Bringing its Revolutionary Fungi Protein to More Tables

Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd announces new retail distribution expansions for its alt meat and dairy products made with fermented proteins from fungi.  After launching regionally a year ago, Nature’s Fynd Meatless Original Breakfast Patties will now be on the shelves of 400 Whole Foods Markets stores across the US.   Additionally, the company’s Dairy-Free Cream Cheese, in Original and Chive & Onion flavors, is launching in all Fresh Thyme Market locations — a full-service specialty retailer with 70 stores in ten states across the Midwest. Cutting edge of alt protein Nature’s Fynd has raised $500 million to date, including a $4.76 mil­lion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At the cutting edge of the alt protein food tech revolution, Nature’s Fynd produces fermented fungi proteins from a microbe originating in the geothermal …


Aqua Cultured + Sodexo

©Kezia/ Aqua Cultured

Cultivated, Cell-Cultured & Biotechnology

7 Exciting Startups Proving Chicago is the Next Major Hub of Alt Protein

While California is often considered the center of the alt protein universe, where many top companies are headquartered and countless startups emerge, new hubs of bold food innovation are taking hold in diverse cities and regions across America. Vegconomist will spotlight these growing centers of animal-free food tech, beginning with the third most populous US city, Chicago. Located in America’s Midwest, Chicago is famously known as the historic center of the nation’s meatpacking industry. It is highly fitting, therefore, that multiple alt-protein brands and startups have chosen Chicago as their home, as they endeavor to reinvent the animal protein that long defined the city with new ingredients and 21st century technology. Here are some of the most exciting names changing the world from the Windy …


Aqua Cultured Foods closed a $5.5 million seed Round to launch its seafood alternatives

© Aqua Cultured Foods

Investments & Finance

Aqua Cultured Foods Raises $5.5M to Bring Ultra-Realistic Alt Seafood to Market

As it begins consumer tastings of its products in Chicago today, Aqua Cultured Foods announces it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding to bring its ultra-realistic alt seafood to market through chef partners and food service distributors. This new capital brings Aqua’s total funding to $7.6 million. Using a proprietary mycoprotein fermentation process, Aqua develops calamari, shrimp, scallops, tuna, and whitefish alternatives. Its animal and GMO-free products contain natural fiber, protein, and micronutrients and will be available in pieces or minced for its future go-to-market Asian food partners. Mission-aligned partners “We appreciate having mission-aligned partners that offer strong strategic value for the next phase of our growth, which will involve building up the business and brand,” said Anne Palermo, CEO of Aqua Cultured. The round …


Tuna/ Poke Bowl

©Aqua Cultured Foods

Food & Beverage

Aqua Cultured Foods to Begin First Public Tastings of Alt-Tuna, Shrimp and Scallops

US food tech startup Aqua Cultured Foods announces it will begin consumer tastings of its seafood alternatives in Chicago, ahead of its public launch through chef partners and foodservice distributors.   Beginning April 6, the startup will hold tastings of several alt-seafood products, including Aqua tuna rolls, shrimp dumplings and scallop crudo, at its headquarters in West Loop, Chicago. According to Aqua, it intends to solicit feedback from participants on the products’ quality compared to conventional seafood products, especially texture.  Unique fermentation Founded in 2020, Aqua is developing a range of seafood alternatives, including whitefish, shrimp, scallops and tuna filets, with mycoprotein fermentation technology. Using a unique strain of fungi, the company says it is able to transform plant-based ingredients into realistic seafood alternatives that offer …


Wicked Meatball Sub

Meatball Sub© Plant Junkie

Gastronomy & Food Service

Plant Junkie Opens Healthy Vegan Fast Food Concept in New York and Chicago

Plant Junkie, a new fast food concept specializing in better-for-you plant-based cuisine, announces it is now open in several locations across New York City and Chicago.  Founded by New York restauranteur Nat Milner and Chef Hiranth Jaysinghe, Plant Junkie’s menu is focused on offering a delicious, healthier alternative to traditional fast food that goes beyond burgers.  The concept’s menu features a diverse variety of globally inspired plant-based dishes, ranging from bowls and salads to burgers, sandwiches and sides. Featured entrees include the Bangkok Curry Bowl (Peanut noodles, baked red curry tofu, Asian cabbage slaw, coconut kale, crispy lotus root), the Sri Lankan Buddha Bowl (Yellow basmati rice, chickpea curry, seitan curry, coconut kale, crispy papadum) and New York “Chicken” Caesar Salad. The concept’s sandwiches include …


Green Boy Chicago

© Green Boy Group

Company News

Green Boy Group Opens New Chicago Office Led by Ingredients Veteran Thomas Smit

Plant-based protein supplier Green Boy Group announces it has opened a new office in Chicago, led by the newly appointed Thomas Smit.  According to Green Boy, Smit’s career began at agribusiness company Nidera (now Syngenta) in Amsterdam, where he focused on supplying plant-based food ingredients globally. In 2016, Smit joined Royal Ingredients in Chicago as that company’s Managing Director, which has since been acquired by BayWa thanks to strong US sales growth.  “I am grateful for my time at Royal where I gained a lot of experience on how to start, run and expand an office in a market that is constantly evolving,” says Thomas Smit. “But when Green Boy approached me to head their new office in Chicago, I was getting very excited. Green …


© WayFare

Milk- and Dairy Alternatives

Retail Success for WayFare Yogurts Created With Pumpkin Seeds, Butter Beans & Oats

WayFare, a family-operated brand offering a wide range of plant-based dairy products, this week enjoys retail expansion for its newly launched, “next level” yogurts which are created with a base of pumpkin seeds, butter beans, and oats. Three flavors of the vegan yogurts — 4.8 oz. cups of plain, strawberry and raspberry — will arrive on the shelves of over 100 Jewel Osco stores across Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, as part of the brand’s mission to offer nutritionally superior options to consumers looking to eliminate or reduce their dairy intake. Originally coming from a dairy farming background in Cabot, VT, the Coffin family also produces a variety of butter, cheese sauce, sour cream, and puddings, all suitable for vegans and those with allergies. WayFare claims …


Plantbased Business Hour

Ingredion, Chicago’s The Hatchery and Alchemeat Cook Up Something Special on The Plantbased Business Hour

Elysabeth Alfano is joined on The Plantbased Business Hour by Ingredion’s Kimberly Frey, Ingredion’s Chef Nelson Serrano Bahri, The Hatchery’s Dani Zuchovicki and Chef Huan Xia of Alchemeat to discuss Chicago as the new Plant-based Hub and Ingredion’s most recent Plant-based BBQ Cook-off! Specifically, they discuss How The Hatchery is growing the community and market in Chicago for plant-based businesses, Chicago as a center of Plant-based Innovation, Ingredion’s support of the plant-based market locally and globally, Ingredion’s sustainability to focus and how Plant-based Innovation is helping them reach their sustainability goals, Chef Xuan Xia’s newest, tasty product and her vision for growing the Plant-based Steak market with Ingredion’s Chef Nelson Serrano Bahria’s guidance. Here is a short clip and transcript from their conversation. Podcast here. Display content from YouTube Click here to display …


TiNDLE Next Gen Foods

TiNDLE © Next Gen Foods

Company News

Next Gen Foods Names Chicago as New US Headquarters and Opens R&D Lab at The Hatchery

Next Gen Foods, the makers of plant-based chicken brand TiNDLE, announces it has established new headquarters in Chicago, and is opening its first US-based R&D and innovation center at The Hatchery Chicago, one of America’s largest food business incubators. The brand is also expanding the availability of TiNDLE at restaurants throughout the city.  According to Next Gen, The Hatchery will serve as a starting point for TiNDLE’s product development as it scales up into new US sales channels, including food service and retail. As an R&D facility, the center will also allow early-stage exploration of Next Gen’s new plant-based products, leveraging insights from both consumers and operators to expand the brand’s product line. “We are excited to welcome Next Gen Foods and TiNDLE to The Hatchery …